Since the Colombine school slaughter 20 years ago, mass shootings have become a staple tragedy in American life. We have suffered 260 school shootings since the Sandy Hook massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012 and over 200 mass shootings in the first seven months of 2018, according to the Gun Violence Archive.
Future historians will look back on this period in American history and wonder, how could a functioning democracy have tolerated it for so long? They will note that a large majority of Americans, including gun owners, favored more restrictive policies for ownership of the deadliest firearms. Yet progress was blocked by one rich and powerful organization, the National Rifle Association, acting largely as a surrogate lobby for a gun industry that fights any impediment to growing its market. As in so many other facets of our public life, campaign loot has drowned out the voice of the people.
But the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School (MSD) in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018, might well have been the final straw. It inspired a new generation, not yet inured to these senseless tragedies, to cry out, “Enough already!” American high school students—who are often on the front lines of this bloodshed—have declared war on the NRA and its stranglehold on Congress with the March for Our Lives movement, led by Stoneman Douglas students David Hogg and Emma González.
Hogg was hunkered down in a classroom closet while Nikolas Cruz murdered 17 students and teachers and wounded 17 more in a sixminute rampage with an AR-15 semiautomatic rifle. Hogg had the presence of mind to record the hideout horror with his phone and then send the video to the local Sun Sentinel paper, where it soon went viral. He, along with his fellow survivor Emma González, emerged as articulate, outraged, impassioned voices of a generation terrified by this ceaseless carnage. On MSNBC and in other media interviews, Hogg stated his central motivation for speaking out: “People get used to what’s going on, and that’s not okay.” On Bill Maher’s show, he said, “We don’t need to listen to President Trump. President Trump needs to listen to the screams of the children and the screams of this nation.”
To amplify those screams so lawmakers would finally take notice, Hogg, González and 18 other Stoneman Douglas students founded the political action committee Never Again MSD and, with $4 million gathered in nationwide contributions, organized the estimated 800,000- strong March for Our Lives protest in Washington, D.C., and hundreds of affiliated rallies around the country last summer. The events were reminiscent of the March on Washington in 1963, where Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his “I have a dream” speech, which sparked a revolution and helped to end legalized segregation and the disenfranchisement of African-Americans.
Then, just like the Freedom Riders who ventured into the Deep South to register black voters and bear witness to persistent discrimination, the Never Again students hit the road in their own bus for a summer tour of 75 cities, encouraging young people to register and vote as if their lives depended on it—because they do. In the 2014 midterm election, a meager 20% of eligible people aged 18 to 29 voted. In 2018 that number rose 11 percentage points to reach one of the highest levels in decades. The voter drive was a resounding success.